During what should have been a boring family affair, Alex is kidnapped while trying to protect Tracht’s nephew. With Tracht’s sister concentrating on getting her son back, nobody is thinking about Alex—except Tracht, who will stop at nothing to get him back.
This 20k short story continues the story of Alex and Tracht from Under His Heel.
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Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 36-45
Word Count: 20,000
Setting: Space Station
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
“I appreciate you coming along,” Anna said, “But did you have to bring him?”
“Him” being, of course, Alex. Where Anna had merely thought Alex a bit ugly before she’d met him in person, she now considered him uncouth, a brute, and completely unfit to be seen in public. Even when he wasn’t trying to be menacing, Alex had a look about him that put people on edge.
Tracht thought Alex was rather handsome, in his own way, but he knew his objectivity had been compromised long ago in that regard. He was also delighted by the reactions people had to Alex’s mere presence, and he was more than happy to take the opportunity to goad Anna, when he rarely had the upper hand with her.
“As you said, you robbed me of a free afternoon. I fully intend to enjoy myself, and Alex is usually very good at providing entertainment in some way.”READ MORE
Anna scowled. A few feet ahead of them, her three children walked alongside Alex. Chryssy and Johan ignored him, but Markus kept turning his head to stare at Alex’s face. Alex caught him at it and glared back, but that didn’t deter Markus.
Out of all of Anna’s children, Tracht tolerated Markus the best. Chryssy was, as far as he knew, the smartest of them, but that might have been a product of her being the oldest at sixteen. Markus was fourteen, and at the stage where he was starting to care more about what his peers thought than what the adults thought. He was also a spoiled brat, but that was par for the course with Anna’s children. Tracht liked the moderate streak of rebelliousness in him, but only in comparison to the other two children.
At ten, Johan was the least interesting, which made it all the more irritating that Johan had decided to like Tracht. He was enamored by his uncle with almost the same name, constantly asking “Uncle Hannes” to come look at something or other that he’d done. If he weren’t Anna’s child, Tracht would have done his utmost to terrify the brat into leaving him alone.
Alas, maintaining a healthy relationship with Anna was important for his own career, so Tracht was forced to be moderately civil.
Today’s family outing was to some school exhibition, where students showcased their art or science projects. Chryssy had collaborated with some of her classmates to create a larger science project, while Markus had painted some artworks. Johan hadn’t participated for some reason or other that Tracht had already forgotten.
“He’s going to scare the children,” Anna muttered. “Parents will complain to the school directors, and we’ll be kicked out.”
“That is a perfectly acceptable outcome,” Tracht said. In fact, it was more preferable to staying for the full four hours Anna had estimated for the excursion. “I’ll escort him out when that happens. I’ll be perfectly apologetic, of course, and it will be an absolute tragedy if they decide to ban me from the premises.”
“I don’t know why you insist on being so anti-social.” Anna sighed. “You could find a partner easily if you weren’t such a recluse.”
Alex’s steps faltered briefly, which probably meant he was paying attention to what they were saying. He was getting better at ignoring Anna’s digs about him, but he had a much harder time containing his jealousy. Tracht had no intention of culling that particular behavior.
“I am completely satisfied in my life now. But if yours is so empty that you feel the need to meddle in mine, I can recommend a few things for you to try with Vasilis in bed.”
Predictably, Anna dropped the matter. She had no issues discussing her sex life in private, but in public, at her children’s school, she wouldn’t risk tarnishing her image.
They arrived at Chryssy’s classroom, already filled with other teenagers and parents. Chryssy made a beeline for her peers, while Anna wasted no time in greeting some acquaintances of her own. On the far wall, several high-end screens cycled through summaries of the projects around the room, with more parents milling about and pretending to be deeply interested in the exploits of other people’s offspring.
Alex stepped close to Tracht and looked deeply uncomfortable. “That’s a lot of kids.”
“Yes.” And while it would be amusing to see Alex cause a scene, Tracht knew that Anna would never forgive him if it came to that, so he added, “Do behave yourself while we’re here.”
“I wasn’t gonna do anything,” Alex countered with a scowl. “You could’ve just left me on the ship, and everybody woulda been happier.”
Everybody except Tracht, who would still have been required to come along. “Come now, I’d have no excuse to punish you if I left you behind.”
He would have found an excuse. They both knew that, and maybe in the early days of his servitude, Alex would have protested. Now, though, Alex looked like he wanted to embrace Tracht, or kiss him. If they weren’t in public, Tracht would have indulged him.
He was getting far too sentimental lately.
Anna interrupted them by bringing a few people over. “This is my brother, Johannes. Johannes, these are Hanna Mayer, Augustus Spiegel, and Thomas Dieter. Their children are part of Chryssy’s project group.”
Tracht gave a strained smile. He hated it when Anna introduced him, because she invariably invited people to call him by his first name. The false intimacy of the act bothered him beyond measure.
“Johannes Tracht, Captain of the Sigrun. Pleasure to meet all of you.”
“Do you also have children at this school?” Dieter asked.
They were caught off guard by his blunt answer, and Anna stepped in to smooth things over. “He’s here for moral support, as it were, since Vasilis couldn’t make it. He’s been so busy lately.”
Mayer smiled lightly. “I did hear rumors of a new acquisition… but aren’t you very busy yourself? You must be so busy with your upcoming judgeship.”
The conversation segued into Anna’s work and her probable election to preside over one of the station’s courts. Tracht added commentary as necessary, but for the most part he kept his attention focused on Alex.
It was delightful to watch him squirm in discomfort. Alex wasn’t fond of high society, and hated it even more when conversation turned to things he simply didn’t understand. Tracht wondered if he should add basic law to Alex’s study curriculum, but that was probably too far out of Alex’s range.
The most interesting part of any social interaction involving Alex wasn’t Alex himself though. It was how others ended up responding to him. Spiegel was the first one to register Alex’s presence, and then he couldn’t stop staring. His eyes kept focusing on Alex’s face with its large scar and broken nose.
Soon the other two noticed Spiegel’s staring, and Alex noticed them all giving looks, which put Alex even more on edge.
It still took another few minutes before Dieter said, “Okay, I’m sorry, but whose bondservant is that?”
“Mine.” Tracht signaled with his hand, and Alex stepped close enough for Tracht to settle his hand on the small of Alex’s back. “This is Alex. He handles many day-to-day tasks for me. Feel free to ignore him, if it makes you more comfortable.”
Anna shot him a nasty look. “My brother is apparently incapable of going anywhere without his bondservant dogging his heels.”
“Not incapable, just unwilling.”
There was a fight in Anna’s eyes, and Alex was stiff underneath Tracht’s hands. Thankfully, Markus and Johan both chose that moment to come bother their mother.
“Mom, I have to go check on my art display,” Markus said. “It’s just down the hall.”
Anna looked over at Chryssy’s project. “Yes. I suppose I could take a few minutes—”
“No! Mom, I want to go look at my class’s stuff,” Johan needled, and he started pulling on her arm. “They were gonna have a balloon person!”
“Honey, you didn’t even make a project. Let’s stay on this floor.”
Johan’s lips quivered, but then his eyes landed on Tracht and he huffed loudly. “Fine.” He folded his arms over and very clearly broadcast his displeasure.
The other parents all looked sympathetic, but all Tracht felt was contempt. He still didn’t understand what had possessed Anna to reproduce, especially when this was the result.
Anna pinched the bridge of her nose. “How about we all head over to look at Markus’s art project, and then if there’s time we’ll head down to see your classmates.”
“Uncle Hannes could go with me,” Johan said, this time turning his pleading eyes at Tracht. “Please?”
Dear god, absolutely not. “Why don’t we do it the other way around? I’ll look at Markus’s art, and your mother can go with you?”
Dieter, who was apparently invested in Anna’s parental troubles, said, “I think I saw Eva Katselis around. She’d be with the fourth graders.”
“I do need to speak to her,” Anna said, then sighed loudly. “All right, Johan, we’ll go and see your classmates. But only for a little while. I want to see Markus’s display too, and we need to be back in time for Chryssy’s presentation.”
With their arrangements made, Tracht and Alex followed Markus into the other classroom.
Another set of high tech screens lined the walls. It seemed a bit of a waste, but then again, why pay for the most expensive school on station if they didn’t have the most advanced learning technology.
He heard Alex scoff. “What’s the point of any of this?”
Before Tracht could respond, Markus said, “It’s so our parents can see that we’re totally learning shi– stuff.”
Alex chuckled. “Yeah, watch your language around your uncle. He’s strict about that.”
“And I’m right here.” Tracht raised his eyebrows at Markus. “Do you actually need us to view your project?”
Markus shrugged. “I just wanna hang out with my friends.” He paused and looked at Alex. “I bet they’d love to meet you though. The scar is so cool.”
“Your mother would have my hide,” Tracht said. “Which makes it almost worthwhile. But no, I’m going to keep Alex to myself. Go socialize with your peers.”
Once Markus had left, Alex let out a huge sigh. “Why’s he so fixated on me?”
“I assume it’s the novelty and the fact that you represent a completely foreign type of lifestyle. Nobody in his social circle would ever get into fistfights, and if they did, money would fix all the imperfections they caused.”
“The scar isn’t cool. It was nasty. It hurt a—a friggin’ lot.”
Tracht considered whether that was Alex’s way of attempting to get reassurance from Tracht, but it was a bit too subtle for him. Alex’s manipulations were clumsy at best, and while he did exude confidence most of the time, he had some hang-ups regarding his appearance that Tracht was in no rush to alleviate.
Tracht kissed him lightly on the cheek anyway, right on the scar. “At least nobody will ever confuse you with your brother.”
Having seen Nick, Tracht could easily say that he preferred Alex’s flawed face. Another symptom of his over-investment, but a tolerable one. No matter what Anna said, Tracht had found that he was really quite a lot happier now than he had been before he’d acquired Alex.
He’d once thought himself incapable of this sort of sentimentality. How things changed.
They did end up looking around the room at school projects, simply for something to do. Tracht could easily say that none of the children were savants, and while he saw that Markus had a modicum of art talent, he wouldn’t have hung the final paintings anywhere on the ship.
“So, this was the school Parsons wanted his kid to go to? I don’t get the big deal,” Alex said after their tour of the room ended.
The fact that Tracht was still moderately jealous of Parsons did irk him. He hated hearing Alex speak of Parsons, even knowing that Parsons was safely in another solar system, completely unreachable to Alex. He’d even seen Alex’s clumsy attempts at messaging him, and the finality of Parsons’ dismissals.
“I’m told that this is the best school on station, but I doubt Parsons’ daughter would have received the full benefit of it. None of her peers would have accepted somebody from a lower social stratum than themselves, especially once the parents caught wind of exactly how far beneath them Parsons was. I’m only surprised that the school admitted his daughter in the first place.”
“So he really ruined everything for nothing.” Alex frowned, which worsened his already severe neutral expression. They really would have somebody calling security on them soon.
Anna came in some time later with Johan in tow, who looked even more sullen than he had before. “It’s time for Chryssy’s presentation. Come on.”
The classroom was packed, with parents all standing on one side of the room. Everybody wanted to hear their precious little angels speaking.
“I can’t see,” Johan complained.
“Go sit in front,” Anna said. She only had half her attention on him.
Tracht watched as Johan slipped past other adults and teenagers.
About five minutes into the presentation, Alex leaned in close to whisper, “I gotta piss.”
Tracht was half tempted to tell him to hold it—he had a few ideas of what he could do with a desperate Alex—but the school was sadly not the right venue for that.
“Then go. Bathrooms are down the hall,” Tracht said. “And come right back.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Alex casually touched Tracht’s shoulder and then muscled his way out past the disconcerted parents.
Tracht tried to concentrate on the presentation. He could appease Anna’s ire somewhat if he appeared somewhat interested, though a teenager’s understanding of physics was hardly engaging. He ended up checking his messages on his tablet, ignoring the dirty looks Anna sent him.
He’d managed to respond to two mails when he realized that Alex hadn’t returned yet. He’d been gone for more than fifteen minutes, and even accounting for the need to find the bathroom, that was an extremely long time.
If it had been a ploy to get out of listening to the presentation, Tracht was going to punish him thoroughly. In fact, he hoped it was a ploy. That would be a nice way of relieving stress after this excursion.
Maybe he’d force Alex to drink and drink, until his bladder was bursting, and let Alex urinate on a mat like a dog. Make him clean up the mess afterward too. That had some potential. Or he could give him a piss enema, which held its own appeal.
Clapping around him alerted Tracht to the end of the presentation. He put his tablet back in his coat pocket and looked up at Anna—who, hypocritically, was on her own tablet.
“Shouldn’t you have been paying more attention?” he needled.
“I—” Anna broke off and shook her head lightly. “You caught me. This was a work matter. I might need to head back early. Do you think you could—”
“No.” Tracht met her eyes. “If you need to go, then let’s round up everybody and simply leave.”
Anna nodded. “Yes, you’re right. I think the important part is over. I’ll go get Johan and Markus, and see what Chryssy wants to do.”
“I’ll find Alex.” Tracht left the classroom, expecting to find Alex loitering just outside, but he wasn’t there. How annoying.
He tried the bathroom down the hall, only to see it was closed for maintenance. A sign cheerfully invited people to go to the bathrooms one floor down.
That would account for a certain amount of time, but not for Alex’s failure to return. Rather than trek around the school, Tracht pulled up the GPS tracker on his tablet.
Alex’s collar pinged as being close by. Almost on the same spot that Tracht was now. He frowned and looked around, but no Alex.
Ignoring the sign, he took a peek inside the bathroom, but it was also empty and had a foul stench besides.
Tracht looked around the hall again, and then he spotted the stairwell. Alex would have preferred that over the crowded elevators. Maybe he was hiding in it now.
He made sure the door opened from both sides—it did—and then started going down.
Only halfway to the floor below, he saw the blood.
A few drops, scattered over multiple steps, then a larger stain on the landing. Tracht carefully stepped around the blood and peered further.
On the next landing down, he saw why the GPS was pinging Alex as close by. The collar, broken into a lot of smaller pieces, lay strewn around. Next to it were the shattered remains of two tablets.
Unexpected. Tracht gripped the handrail to keep himself steady. He had to breathe deeply to remind himself that panicking would do absolutely no good. For a moment, his mind blanked, and he was overwhelmed by—by worry, unfamiliar as it was for something other than himself and his career.
Tracht kept going down the stairs, his pace speeding up with every step. He spotted a few drops of blood here and there, and skid marks that indicated something being dragged. The stairwell led to an emergency exit, where the alarm had clearly been deactivated to avoid alerting anybody.
His tablet buzzed. He hit the ‘accept call’ button without looking at the screen.
“Johannes? Have you seen Johan? He isn’t answering his tablet. Markus said he left in the middle of the presentation.” Anna sounded mildly annoyed.
Tracht started walking back up the stairs, forcing himself not to rush. He had to swallow twice before he could speak without risking sounding anything other his usual self. “What kind of tablet does he have?”
He stopped on the landing with the destroyed electronics.
“An Axel 3-II. It had a purple case.”
One of the destroyed tablets was certainly purple. The other one was a simple older model, the same kind that Tracht had refurbished for Alex’s use.
“Anna. I’m going to tell you something now. And you need to stay perfectly calm.” He probably had no business telling her that, when he was already shaking with rage. “Come to the stairwell. I’m on the fifth floor landing. Come quietly, don’t make a scene. Don’t ask anybody else if they’ve seen Johan.”
Thankfully, Anna wasn’t the kind of woman to burst into hysterics. She listened, and she continued to talk to him on the phone as she made her way to the stairwell. Tracht hung up when he heard the door opening.
She gasped loudly when she saw the blood. Her steps hastened to clear the last few steps.
“What is this?” she demanded in a hoarse whisper. “Is that—”
“Alex’s bond collar, his tablet, and Johan’s tablet.”
She started taking pictures. Tracht waited while she pieced things together. He was running possibilities through his own mind. He could see Alex getting into a fight with somebody, but the addition of Johan put a wrench into that scenario. He thought of the Nilsens, coming to claim their payment in Alex’s body, but that was unlikely, since then they’d never see another cent from Tracht. Or maybe Alex’s useless brother, making good on his threat to get revenge.
“I knew it. I knew he was bad news!” Anna hissed. “You said you had him properly trained, that he was at heel, but look at this! He hurt Johan!”
For one brief second, Tracht had no idea what Anna was talking about. When realization hit him, he had to laugh, stress and anger turning it ugly. “You think Alex did this?”
“Who else? It’s obvious! Alex snuck off and cornered Johan. He hurt him—” she pointed at the blood stain further up, “and got rid of all the tracking devices.”
“Why would Alex do that?” Tracht asked, forcing himself to maintain an even voice. He didn’t think he succeeded.
“To ransom him? To force you to release him from servitude?”
“I think Alex knows me well enough to know that I don’t—” Tracht stopped that sentence before he could finish it: I don’t give two shits about your brat. Now was not the time to antagonize Anna further. “Look. Call Vasilis. Get him to send discreet security. Send Chryssy and Markus home and talk to the school so they give you all the security footage.”
Anna took a breath and then nodded. “Yes. All right. If this is a kidnapping, we do have kidnapping insurance.” She pulled her tablet out and called Vasilis.
Tracht leaned against the railing and waited.COLLAPSE